“The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has, between the baptised, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (Canon 1055 §1) Since Adam and Eve first walked the earth, man has always understood marriage as the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all other relationships. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Fundamental to the Natural Law is that marriage is contracted between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, we are now seeing this foundational pillar to marriage undermined in Western society.
In recent months, political forces within the Canadian judiciary, as well as theological movements within the Anglican communion and various other main-line Protestant denominations, have sought to redefine marriage as an exclusive relationship “between two persons.” Quite often this is presented as a matter of justice and inclusivity towards those of an alternate sexual orientation. As faithful Catholics, we cannot remain ambivalent to this challenge. For the Church holds, as Pope John Paul II so clearly states in Familiaris Consortio, that the “conjugal communion sinks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between man and woman, and is nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire life-project…”
In other words, God designed marriage around the natural complementarity between the male and the female. First and foremost, we see this complementarity in the procreation of the human race – the most fundamental and necessary component of society’s existence. This is the rationale behind the Church’s teaching that marriage is ordered toward the good of children. For as we read in Familiaris Consortio, “the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator-that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person.”
Yet the good of children does not end with procreation; children must also be educated. As numerous sociological and psychological studies confirm, the traditional family provides the most stable and nurturing environment for the social, psychological, spiritual, and emotional needs of children. There is no authentic substitute for a stable two-parent family of complimentary gender. By means of the Natural Law, God engraves this truth in every human heart. He does not do so for His sake, but for the good of the individual, the good of the family and for the good of society as a whole.
In Familiaris Consortio, the Holy Father draws this connection between the conjugal communion of a man and woman and the stability of the family. “Conjugal communion constitutes the foundation on which is built the broader communion of the family, of parents and children, of brothers and sisters with each other, of relatives and other members of the household,” he states. “This communion is rooted in the natural bonds of flesh and blood, and grows to its specifically human perfection with the establishment and maturing of the still deeper and richer bonds of the spirit: the love that animates the interpersonal relationships of the different members of the family constitutes the interior strength that shapes and animates the family communion and community.” Thus marriage exists to serve God through service to the traditional family structure. This is the reason why marriage has survived throughout the centuries, while others have not; this exclusive union between a man and a woman reflects the natural order which God has created.
When man tries to socially engineer a union – such as the Canadian judiciary’s recent attempt with same-sex marriage, and make a pretense that it is just as valid or sublime as an authentic marriage – it is doomed to failure. Such a union does not fail because of its introduction into an intolerant or repressive society. Rather, as we learn from ancient history, homosexually permissive societies simply die out. Unable either to sustain or to propagate themselves, they bring down a whole culture with them. The failure of homosexually permissive societies, therefore, is neither political, social, nor ideological.
Rather, the failure of homosexual civilizations lay in their refusal to accept that the homosexual act is against human nature itself. It is against the most fundamental and intrinsic part of our being which, when expressed sexually, is to create. A man engaging in sexual intercourse with another man cannot create new life. Neither can a woman with another woman. In terms of simple biology, the homosexual act is intrinsically closed to creation. “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’” (CCC 2357)
A nation that legalizes homosexual marriage at the expense of the traditional family will soon find its culture intrinsically disordered as well. “No one can serve two masters,” Our Lord shares in the Gospels. “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt 6:24) Similarly, no nation can serve two contradictory definitions of marriage, for the culture of hedonistic eroticism diametrically opposes the culture of self-sacrifice for the family.
And thus, in the battle over marriage between the Culture of Life and the culture of death, Christ calls upon us as His faithful to stand firm as signs of contradiction. “In the context of a culture which seriously distorts or entirely misinterprets the true meaning of human sexuality, because it separates from its essential reference to the person,” we read in Familiaris Consortio, “the Church more urgently feels how irreplaceable is her mission of presenting sexuality as a value and task of the whole person, created male and female in the image of God.”
Homosexual activity is fundamentally closed to human life since, by its very nature, their act is closed to conception. Thus the attempt to reconstruct marriage in a manner inclusive of two individuals of the same gender is a denial of the most essential and fundamental truth of human physiology. It rejects the simplicity with which the male and the female compliment one another. Just as a bolt and a nut go together to accomplish a purpose in basic mechanics; two bolts do not and can never do so.
As Pope Paul VI teaches in Humanae Vitae, the conjugal act fulfills two purposes: to procreate and to unite. “[...] each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life,” His Holiness states. “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.’”
From these two inherent significances flows a wonderful consequence of the conjugal union. Its climax physically reflects the spiritual joy over the creative act in which a man and a woman participate. Neither of these can be separated from the other. One cannot legitimately separate the procreative from the unitive and hope to avoid dire consequences.
In keeping with the Natural Law, conjugal relations are not intended simply for the pleasure they bring to the senses. Thus marriage cannot simply be reduced to a mere sexual act in which both parties derive physical gratification. Rather, the conjugal act is a sacred and noble thing.
Inherent within its nobility is the couple’s sublime participation in the creation and the propagation of the human race for the greater glory of God. As such, the conjugal act cannot be morally manipulated or interrupted in any way. Its attributes cannot be pulled apart and arbitrarily heightened at the expense of the very purpose for which God designed the act itself. The suppression of any element of the act results in a distortion of its role in building up the family and of society. It is a vicious reconstruction of the creative act with which mankind has been entrusted, and it is a direct assault on the image of God Himself.
As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God. ‘Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty with a sense of human and Christian responsibility.’”(CCC 2367)
In further seeking to understand the traditional family, and the importance of defending the complimentary role of each gender within marriage, Christians should keep in mind that not only are individual persons created in the image of God, but so is the family itself. In fact, the human family is the closest analogy that mankind will ever come to concretely understanding the Blessed Trinity.
The historic Christian creeds teach that while there is one God, He exists in three distinct persons. Additionally, Holy Scripture reveals that man is made in the “image of God”. From these two truths, therefore, we acknowledge that the complete image of God is found in the Triune understanding of Him. This understanding of His Triune nature is reflected by the human family whose personal relationships approach the likeness of the Trinity. Consider the unity of the Trinity which is reflected in the unity of the family. Or the “family of persons” which is found in both. The persons of the Trinity share the “same substance” while a human family becomes one flesh: wife with husband and parents with children.
There is also another element in the Trinity that lends itself to human likeness. The Nicene Creed professes this about the Trinity: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” In Catholic theology, the Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the will of both the Father and the Son, or in other words, through the activity which they engage in, otherwise known as “love”. The Holy Spirit is poured forth through the exchange of love between the Father and the Son. This is why perhaps Jesus says to the Apostles: ” Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
In the eternal economy of the Trinity, therefore, a person “proceeds” from the love between two other persons. And so, the Holy Spirit is love “proceeding” or “coming from” the first two persons of the Blessed Trinity. The human family has a rather striking parallel to this dynamic. The ultimate act of intimacy in a marriage mirrors the eternal exchange of love between the first two persons of the Trinity. And like the eternal or continual procession of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, the act of love between a man and a woman causes opens itself up to the “procession” of another human person through the birth of a child. Because the homosexual act is not ordered to the procession of another person, a same-sex marriage can never be a Trinitarian reflection of the divine essence.
Indeed, marriage can only take place between a man and a woman. For fundamental to marriage is its openness to human life and to the communion between a man and a woman. These are the co-ends of marriage as noted by the Second Vatican Council. Subsequently, the conjugal act either affirms God’s image or it distorts it. This is why contraceptive sex, including the homosexual act, are seriously disordered: they subvert man’s dignity as co-creators with God and seek to create God in another image.
Pete Vere & John Pacheco
February 25, 2004
Pete Vere is a writer and canon lawyer from Sudbury Ontario. John Pacheco is a social conservative activist and writer. He is the director of Social Conservatives United, a network of social conservative groups seeking cultural and political change in Canada.